Mum’s the Word on Fed Pay Raise

Svetlana Lugovskaya/Shutterstock.com

The House and Senate Appropriations committees don’t agree on much these days, but so far they’re in harmony with respect to a pay raise next year for federal civilian employees.

The full Senate panel remained silent on a pay boost for feds in its fiscal 2014 Financial Services and General Government spending bill, which it approved on Thursday afternoon. Like the House version, the Senate bill leaves the decision to President Obama by omitting language related to an across-the-board raise for government workers. The financial services bill, as lawmakers refer to it, typically is the vehicle for such federal pay provisions.

None of the House fiscal 2014 spending bills so far contain funds for a civilian pay raise. The House to date has passed four of the 12 spending bills for fiscal 2014: Defense; Energy and Water Development; Homeland Security; and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. The Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA bills did not endorse a civilian pay raise, but didn’t forbid it either.

“The committee does not include requested funding for a civilian pay increase,” lawmakers wrote in both of those spending bills. “Should the president provide a civilian pay raise for fiscal year 2014, it is assumed that the cost of such a pay raise will be absorbed within existing appropriations for fiscal year 2014.”

The House Defense spending bill also does not include money for a civilian pay raise next year.

The Senate has not yet passed any fiscal 2014 spending bills. The upper chamber has been considering the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill on the floor this week.

The absence of specific language regarding a 2014 pay raise in those bills does not automatically mean federal workers will not get one next year. If there is no specific legislative language that provides funds or prohibits an across-the-board raise in any bills -- either stand-alone or omnibus legislation -- then the president has the authority to determine a pay raise based on the Employment Cost Index. President Obama in his fiscal 2014 budget recommended a 1 percent pay boost for federal workers, but if Congress doesn’t appropriate funds for a pay raise, it’s unclear where the president would find the money for an increase, effectively continuing the current civilian freeze, which began in 2011.

If history is any indication, however, the prospects don’t look promising. Congress nixed Obama’s recommended 0.5 percent pay increase for feds in 2013, when it passed the continuing resolution in March to keep the government open through Sept. 30. The law overturned Obama’s executive order directing the raise to take effect in late March. At the time, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who worked closely with Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., on crafting that agreement, said she did not want to include the freeze for feds but that it was necessary to prevent a government shutdown. She likened the CR to the last helicopter leaving a disaster area. “The helicopter couldn’t take off if this modest pay raise was on it. I think this is a terrible mistake,” she said in March. “I hope that in next year’s regular order, we can make this up. But I want to say to my federal employees, this was a draconian choice.” Maryland is home to 130,000 federal employees.

Mikulski issued a press release on Thursday detailing fed-friendly provisions she inserted into the financial services bill, including preventing the work of federal employees from being outsourced without comparing the cost of federal employees and contractors, and prohibiting arbitrary freezes or cuts to the size of the federal workforce by requiring agencies to manage workload based on available funds and workforce necessary to carry out the agencies’ missions and functions.

“Whenever deficit reduction comes up, federal employees are the first to take a hit,” Mikulski said in a statement. “They are the targets of unending attacks. Downsizing and RIFs [reductions-in-force]. Diet COLAs [cost-of-living adjustments] and contracting-out. Furloughs and shutdowns. Today federal employees are continuing to work under a pay freeze and bills continue to be introduced slashing the federal workforce without asking what services will be lost. By standing up to arbitrary cuts and freezes, we will level the playing field for hardworking federal employees.” The release did not specifically mention a 2014 pay increase for feds.

Even if Congress gives Obama the discretion to determine a 2014 pay increase, and he finds the money for one, it’s unlikely to please many federal workers, who have been subjected to unpaid leave this summer and may face additional furloughs in fiscal 2014 if Congress keeps sequestration in place. Federal employee and retiree advocates have criticized what they view as Obama’s tepid defense of federal pay and benefits.

The $23.2 billion draft financial services bill the Senate committee approved is roughly $6 billion more than its House counterpart. House appropriators, for example, slashed 24 percent of the Internal Revenue Service’s budget, in response to management scandals that came to light this spring. But the Senate panel added $276.5 million more than the agency’s fiscal 2013 enacted budget. “The IRS has endured drastic funding reductions in each of the past three fiscal years, compromising its capacity to be responsive to taxpayers and pursue tax cheats,” stated the Senate committee’s summary of its bill. “Cutting resources (as the House has recommended) would be counterproductive to helping the IRS chart a course of corrective action to remedy the serious shortcomings in its management and internal controls as recently identified by the inspector general."

The financial services bill funds the Treasury Department, Executive Office of the President, Judiciary, District of Columbia, Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission, and several other independent agencies.

On Wednesday, the House approved a 1.8 percent pay raise for military service members in the fiscal 2014 Defense spending bill.

(Image via Svetlana Lugovskaya/Shutterstock.com)

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